Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Attacking The Root Cause

Over the last several years, I have seen many articles like this one, asking, "When are we going to get serious about the Saudis?"

Schwartz draws our attention to a pregnant detail -- that “Few in the West seemed to notice earlier this week when 2,000 people assembled in Hilla, near Baghdad, to protest a car bombing that killed at least 125. The demonstrators chanted ‘No to terrorism! No to Baathism and Wahhabism!’ "

“No to Wahhabism?” Yesterday we quoted Bernard Lewis as noting: "As an interesting result of (the strong presence of Wahhabism in Islamic education in Germany but not in Turkey), of 12 Turks arrested so far who have active membership of al Qaeda, all 12 were born and brought up in Germany, none in Turkey…”

How strange it would seem if the last important bastion of Wahhabism is in accommodationist Europe – the House of Saud having been shriveled to impotence and the other Arab states too busy democratizing and nation-building to be distracted by Islamofascists crying out from the ash heap, where they squat beside the communists.

Interestingly, here is a rather unheralded article that discusses the emerging metamorphosis of Saudi Arabian attitudes toward terrorism:

As it faces an armed revolt from within, Saudi Arabia is gradually confronting a painful issue that was long taboo: whether the religious traditions of the kingdom have promoted Islamic terrorism.

Radical clerics, accustomed to preaching violence against unbelievers, are being watched more closely. The government says about 2,000 have been removed from their mosques in the past three years.

Religious charities that once funneled billions of dollars to promote extremist ideologies around the world are being regulated for the first time. In schools, reformers are wrestling for control of textbooks and classrooms that have long taught intolerance and hostility toward non-Muslims.

and then this yesterday from the AP: "Saudis Tout Campaign to Fight Terrorism":

Saudi Arabia touted its anti-terrorism efforts Monday, saying it has arrested 700 terrorist suspects and started some of the strictest controls in the world against terror financing.

The statements came in a news conference laying out the kingdom's new campaign of billboards, television spots and school programs aimed at combating Islamic extremism in Saudi society.

"The bottom line is that no Saudi citizen will be able to escape the clear message that intolerance, violence and extremism are not part of our Islamic faith or Saudi culture or traditions," said Adel al-Jubeir, a foreign affairs adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.

It occurs to me to wonder if this change may be the single most important shift in the Middle East that is going on right now. In fact--is it too bold to say it?--it may be exactly this shift of gargantuan proportions in Saudi attitudes that was the ultimate objective of the US invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Does that theory make it seem like I'm overanalyzing the US strategy in the war on terror and crediting the Bush Administration with too much here?

If one posits that the source of Islamic extremism lies in the Wahhabist schools and madrassas of Saudi Arabia; and that for a very long time that country has been exporting the religious ideology that establishes the underpinnings of Islamic extremism--then it is important to comprehend what a seismic shift is going on right now in Saudi Arabia. The demonstrations in Lebanon, Kuwait, and even Morocco; the thaw in Egypt--all these events are very important in and of themselves--but they also serve as additional pressure points on the Saudi Royals that their continued support of extremism and terrorism will lead to their inevitable decline and disappearance from history.

The Saudi Royals are not stupid. They see what is happening now. In 2001, there was little we could do to push them to change, especially with our dependence on their control of oil. Yet, by invading Afghanistan and Iraq, we have basically changed the face of the Middle East, and the full repercussions of those actions are just now being felt. The House of Saud is perfectly aware that change is coming--they can see it with their own eys. Psychologically, we have made an end run around them, and now they have to make some big decisions about their exportation of Wahhabism and support of terrorism--and the future of their own rule at the center of Islam. We have seen that at each step since 2001, more and more pressure has been exerted on the House of Saud to begin to implement change.

In truth, within Saudi Arabia lies the "root cause" of the world's terrorism problem. But until recently, that country has been untouchable. They have been like a weed spreading its seeds outward, popping up in every part of the the world's garden. Like any good gardener, we are attacking the root of the weed by digging our way around it, so that it will be (hopefully) somewhat easier to pull it out without destroying the garden.

I don't know that I'm correct on the assumption that the Saudis were a target all along in the war on terror. For some it will seem that such an approach is rather too subtle for the Bush Administration. But maybe there is some real intelligence (as in "IQ") behind the strategic moves in the war on terror.

Just maybe.

No comments: